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Cutting Through the Athletic Directorspeak: Jack Swarbrick Interview Notes

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick sat down with the Observer over Christmas break and discussed various and sundry Notre-Dame-sports-related topics. Swarbrick professed his confidence in the Big East, talked Notre Dame football in China, and discussed what the Notre Dame football program can learn from the "non-revenue" sports and basketball; hint: it rhymes with "winning."

You can find the entire article here. But why read it for yourself when you can just let the good folks at One Foot Down tell you what to think? Here is the first part of our two-part write up.

Notre Dame Is Dealing With Recent And Impending Changes To College Football

Swarbrick discussed how potential changes to college football's offseason might affect Notre Dame:

[S]o much of this is motivated by postseason football issues like automatic qualification status. I think there's a likelihood that something about the format of postseason will change in the next year. And depending on what form that takes, it may produce change. Absent that piece of information, it's hard to predict what might happen. But setting that aside, I think with the Big East having solidified itself through these recent moves I think among the BCS conferences it'll be pretty stable.

Notre Dame is "really happy that the Big East, which has been a great home to us, was able to make the moves it made...," moves that were "good for the Big East" and its continued viability.

Translation: The Big East just about imploded last season. We are happy that the clowns that run the Big East saw this coming and took appropriate measures to prevent its own demise took the deer-in-the-headlights approach and froze in the path of the 40-ton semi that was conference realignment hurtling through the southern night at 70 m.p.h. We are glad to have a place for basketball and all of our other sports. We are also glad that the Big East took on some new football schools, although it makes no sense that four of them are from the Southwest and West Coast. Now that the Big East includes football up-and-comers like Southern Methodist and Houston, we can boost our strength-of-schedule and keep the Big East happy without really risking much.

Swarbrick went on to discuss the "spectrum of possibilities" for the future of College Football's post-season, a spectrum that could range from a return to the old bowl system to a "plus-one" system. Swarbrick recently discussed this at a "conference last week in New York," a conference which may or may not have been attended by The Illuminati, The CIA (yes, all of it), the electric car, Global Warming, cold fusion, The Roswell Alien, and Dick Cheney. Swarbrick does not "necessarily share [the] view" that a plus-one is inevitable, but some of his fellow conspirators conference-goers clearly share that view.

The Internet is the Future of the Notre Dame Network

Irish fans, you have seen the future, and it is Irish Connection. Swarbrick confirmed that Notre Dame is continuing to develop its own "Notre Dame Network" of sorts. But Notre Dame is not Texas, thus the Notre Dame Network will come to us via the strange and mystical internets.

[W]e're in discussions with Comcast/NBC about how to expand our capabilities. And I think people have seen it manifest in the amount of digital programming that's been produced in the past six months, especially in this football season with the behind-the-scenes elements and the exclusive content that we've been able to produce....

You'll never flip a switch and have a network. This is about producing a lot more digital content across the University-not just athletics-managing that digital content, and distributing it broadly. So it reflects a fundamental difference about Notre Dame. We don't have a geographic area to serve. We have to serve a much broader area so our approach has to be different than the Big Ten Network or the Longhorn Network so it's fundamentally different in that it won't be a network owned by us and distributed by third parties, it'll be content owned by us and distributed by third parties.

Well said. The University has realized that Notre Dame's advantages and disadvantages are unique, and they're innovating to bring Notre Dame to the Notre Dame community in a unique way.

Many of my friends and family are LSU fans. You may have heard of LSU. They recently played in something called the National Championship game. Yes, that LSU. Well LSU does not put out anything remotely resembling the online content that we see from Notre Dame. Forget Irish Connection, archived press conferences and interviews, and streaming spring games. You're lucky if you can find the roster on LSU's website. Of course south Louisiana has a much larger variety of conventional media for LSU fans, but LSU fans living out of state don't get to enjoy that content. Notre Dame's online content is nonpareil in college athletics.

Notre Dame Football Is Continuing To Improve On And Off The Field

For all you malcontents, instigators, trouble-makers, rabble-rousers, and scurrilous scalawags, there is good news: Swarbrick is... GASP... pleased with Coach Kelly's progress two years in, thus you may commence complaining:

Yeah, I'm thrilled with where the program is because what we were focused on when we made a transition were certain program elements: the foundational elements you have to have from strength and conditioning to nutrition to the way we manage the schedule of the student-athletes and all of those foundational - recruiting, all those foundational pieces are in place. We've been very good as the years have gone on in coach Kelly's first two years in sort of building the season and that reflects all of those things. I think we all have the same perspective on this season: but for the turnovers, it could have been a very, very special season. We have to fix that, but when you look at the other elements of the team's performance, it was quite good.

I must agree, though it is unfortunate that it took the University so long to get nutrition, strength and conditioning, and student-athlete scheduling right. Hopefully these changes signify a sea change from Notre Dame's inert, monolithic unwillingness to improve itself, and a return to the seeds of innovation sown by Rockne.

Which brings us to the artificial-playing-surface debate. According to Swarbrick, the playing surface in Notre Dame Stadium "hasn't met our expectations the past two years, and then of course we had a tough playing surface in our last game on the road [Stanford], which sort of brought even greater focus on this issue for us."

But Swarbrick didn't tip his hand on what, if any, improvements are on the way. Cue the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments among the more "traditional" members of the Irish fan base. I'm actually surprised that Swarbrick only mentioned the last two years. I remember Pat Kuntz recounting the face-plant he pulled in '07 because the turf came right out from under his feet. The offensive lineman didn't even need to touch him. He just stared at him. I also remember the [insert any and every] game(s) for the past 5 years, when [Irish/Irish Opponent/Irish Band/Irish Opponent's Band/Halftime honorees/Gameball paratroopers] players had trouble [getting out of their breaks/getting out of their stances/walking/crawling/standing/landing]. Swarbrick was being charitable to the grounds-keeping crew. Something needs to change here quickly. Notre Dame stadium needs at least a hybrid surface. The old way is simply not working. With the speed that Coach Kelly is recruiting, further, the Irish should have an athleticism advantage on most teams on the schedule, so mark me down as unopposed to anything up to and including a fully-artificial surface, if that's what Coach Kelly thinks will help this team win.

The recent conference shake-up has, according to Jack, made some of the games on ND's slate "disappear." Notre Dame is working out the kinks on some neutral-site games, but is otherwise "in great shape through ‘17 if we don't have to change games because people's conference affiliation or the number of games a conference decides to play changes." So the conference realignment has made some of our games disappear, but we're in great shape through '17 if we don't have to change games because conference-affiliation changes made those games disappear. I see.

Swarbrick talked ND-Stanford in China and ND-Navy in Ireland. Swarbrick does not see games outside the U.S. as a developing trend, but more the function of Notre Dame's and Stanford's great working relationship. I'm not sure why, but ND-Stanford in China seems to make sense. Must be because of (a) the ND infomercial in which the girl looks up at the building in China and (b) because I already assume that everyone that goes to Stanford is smart enough to learn Mandarin. And also because of all of the football fans in China. Rational, right?

Swarbrick Is Pleasantly Surprised With This Year's Men's Basketball Squad

"The men's team has suffered some really challenging blows but I love the way they've dealt with them. I love the experience the young guys are getting, and the resiliency of this team. I think it sets us up for the long term very well." This Swarbrick said before Notre Dame's recent smiting of then-number-one-ranked Syracuse.

We're still looking "longer-term" at creating a practice facility for our basketball teams. For those of you wondering why we can't make a basketball practice facility out of the JACC's North Dome, continue to wonder, because Swarbrick termed this apparently common-sense solution "not workable."

The "Non-Revenue" Athletes Are Playing Exceptionally

Swarbrick is pleased that the non-football sports "continue to perform at such a high level":

  • both cross country sports made it to the NCAA Championships.
  • "With sports like soccer, there's so many outcomes in which you can play a great game and not win - the outcome of the game you don't fully control. So you're going to have some years where you get on the sort of run we got on last year with the women and other years where you don't, but the level of play continues to be very high." So why play soccer? Just kidding. Being Latin by marriage, I am a compulsory soccer fan.
  • "[O]ur women's basketball team is performing in an exceptional level - really excited about that."

  • "Hockey is playing very well in its new home and I really look forward to them continuing to build momentum."A deal with NBC Sports will allow Notre Dame to broadcast many of its hockey games nation-wide.
  • "We've had some extraordinary performances in swimming by individual athletes. I could go on all day."


Swarbrick Discusses NCAA Issues

The full-cost-of-attendance issue is in limbo with the NCAA right now. It's a "complicated situation." If the NCAA does vote to approve full cost of attendance, Notre Dame "[will] do it in the manner allowed by the NCAA. We'll take full advantage of it."

The interview concluded with Swarbrick discussing his thoughts on current NCAA leadership.

We've got really effective leadership at the NCAA and they're doing a great job of trying to deal with a host of very difficult issues and I think all of us in the industry are pleased with the effort. ... A fundamental problem we face - and by ‘we' I mean everyone in collegiate athletics - is do we have a sufficient commonality of mission and focus with our programs. Are we in the same business? Because at the very fundamental level, the challenge here is that it's a lot of institutions, it's a very large number of institutions all involved in collegiate athletics, and do we have a common focus, are we engaged in the same business? That underlies a lot of the NCAA's struggles.

Michael Collins' recent FanPost on Alabama's scholarship "practices" really drives home Swarbrick's point. When you take very clear look at schools like Notre Dame and Alabama, it is extremely difficult to conclude that they occupy the same planet, much less the same business. The schools' football interests are similar--both schools want as few hurtles as possible standing between them and a national championship and both schools want to earn a profit off of football--but what the two institutions are willing to do further those interests is vastly different. Throw in mid-majors and smaller programs, which would like a share of the access that Notre Dame and ‘Bama have to the upper-tier bowl games, and you can really see Swarbrick's point.